The glory of the project management glossary

The head of a Project Management Office found this email in his Inbox one lovely  morning:

“Dear Andrew,

thanks for putting together a great project team. img_0944

I have though a feeling there is an alien on the team. “Milestones”, “benchmarks”, “critical path”are only a few of the sounds coming out of his mouth that I was able to record. And there was something about something broken.

Please either send it with an interpreter or  just give it an user-friendly upgrade.




Sounds familiar? The “alien” was the new project manager, with his shining  top-of-class graduation certificate, ready to impress. I easily recognise the junior-me in this “alien”. Believing i can impress with an ammunition of fancy terminology. It did not get me credibility. It only increased the gap between me and team members, partners and beneficiaries. The results were misunderstandings, miscommunication and other easily preventable issues.

It took me some years of practice to speak the audience language, for projects sake. And my job’s sake. Written project documents are still loyal to the fancy project management glossary.

It will make you feel as going back to ABCs. And rightly so. Your audience will appreciate it. Couple of examples:

I speak of

– Intended effects to explain “the project objective”.

– What the project intends to produce to explain “outputs”.

– The project To Do List to bring the “work breakdown structure” in the discussion (that broken something, Nick mentions in his email).

– The logical flow in a project’s life for communication and accountability when bringing in the “logframe”.

– Process documentation when bringing “logs” (communication log, risk log) into communication.

To explain my role, I say “I am the person who brings resources together to achieve the intended benefit within the timeframe of the project”. I thus became a less of an alien around the table. Although, sometimes it is fun to be an alien.

Drawing – courtesy of my daughter, Sofia.


What to expect: when taking over a project run by a colleague-friend

I have to say that I was never in such a situation. I witnessed a few such cases though in different work environments. Each case was pretty  specific, yet some general patterns were there. Here is Rosalia’s case: a young professional who was given responsibility beyond her experience, with the “bonus” of her work friendship at test.

Rosalia was booming when, upon return from a long vacation, she took over the project’s files.  She found out that she will be given this project two months ago.  Her best friend and colleague, Michael, left for another job in another country. Rosalia was very enthusiastic at first. She idealised her friend and everything he did so her usually active critical sense was put to sleep. Two months later she paid dearly with her health. Her joy soon turned into a depression fueled by a stream of difficulties. A surprise kept popping up after another. A consultant was paid for a product of unacceptable quality. A statutory evaluation was skipped with no explanations in the file. There were no contacts established with the project donor and the project was on its final stage. Large amounts of budget remained unpaid and the budget lines were guarded rigidly by the sponsor.

Could at least some of these have been prevented by knowing what to expect and preparing to act? A proper hand-over, to start with, would have given Rosalia a clear status quo. She did not  want to ask her friend any questions of fear to be perceived as challenging his authority. If you find yourself in such a situation, there a few strategies which you could try.

First, ask for a tri-lateral meeting with the departing project manager and your supervisor. It can be over coffee or another less formal set-up.  Follow-up the meeting with a note and send it to both to get confirmation on what you were told. It will give you a baseline and your friend will not feel as reporting to you.

Time permitting, organise a joint introductory meeting / a conference call (in case of teams located in different places), where both you and the departing project manager could participate. Follow the meeting with minutes circulated to all concerned.

Agree with your departing predecessor for how long and on what you estimate to still be needing to get back to him/her with questions you might have.

While friendships come in different forms and many complexities might arise, some of the above might allow to set the boundaries between personal and professional relations so that you can continue your friendship unaffected, to the extent you can. Sometimes you’ll have to choose. Sometimes you’ll have to compromise. It’s important not to compromise your professionalism though. A true friend will not ask you this.